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Should You Get a Second Dog?

A few things to consider before adding another pup to your fam.

by Karen B. London, PhD
May 11, 2021
Sealyham Terrier and golden retriever playing in the grass
Dixi_ / Adobe Stock

Your pet wants you to read our newsletter. (Then give them a treat.)

Your dog is getting older, likes playing with other dogs, and doesn’t like being left alone. You want to give your dog the best life possible and have heard a dog buddy is the key. Should you get a second dog?

People often wonder this, but here’s the thing: If your thoughts of getting another dog are motivated primarily by a desire to do right by your current dog, there are other ways to accomplish that.

Adding a second dog to your household is a big decision, and while I can share general suggestions and points to consider, only you can decide if it’s the right thing to do. The best advice I can give you is this: Only bring another dog into your life if you want one. The responsibility of caring for a new dog will be on your shoulders, and the decision should be based on what you honestly feel you’re willing and able to handle.

As you know, dogs require a big commitment of time, money, and emotion. It’s critical that your entire household is in agreement about getting a second dog, and the reasons for adopting another one should involve more than a desire (however well-intentioned and heartfelt) to make your current dog happy. In other words, don’t do it if your primary purpose is to fix a problem your current dog is having, or to fill some absence in their life.

Once you decide that you truly want another dog, here are some factors to consider.

Will Your Dog Be Happier With Another Dog?

Some dogs, including older dogs, are thrilled to have a new dog in the family. Many times, I’ve seen older dogs enjoy new dogs, whether the new dog is an adult, an adolescent, or a puppy. Sometimes, the addition of a younger, more playful dog will reinvigorate an older dog. They become more cheerful, more vibrant and somehow more alive in their golden years, which is a beautiful thing to see.

On the other hand, I’ve also seen plenty of older dogs who are not happy to share their space and their people with a new dog. They end up irritated, and what should be a peaceful time in their life may be less serene because they are bothered too by a much pestering puppy.

This is where considering your dog’s perspective comes into play. There’s no way to know for sure, but there are clues you can use guess how your dog may react to a second pup.

If your dog generally likes to play with other dogs, seems happy to see them while out on walks, and has positive encounters with other dogs, they are more likely to welcome a new dog. If your dog is easily able to handle other dogs being around their food and toys, that also means they may enjoy a new dog.

If your dog enjoys other dogs briefly and is then ready to get away, they may not enjoy having another dog in the house all day, every day. If they have arthritis or other chronic pain, they may also find it physically uncomfortable to have a play buddy around all the time. If they object to other dogs coming up to you, seeking your attention or being petted by you, your dog may struggle with having another dog in the family.

These potential issues are not deal breakers, but they mean that you’ll likely need to do more work once you’ve brought a new dog into the house. It may also mean that the dogs will need to be separated in certain situations or for some part of each day.

How to Choose the Right Sibling for Your Dog

If you decide to adopt a dog, choosing one who is compatible with your dog will increase the chances that the addition will have a positive impact. Two traits to consider are activity levels and play style.

If your dog wants to play for five minutes a couple of times a day and the new dog wants to play constantly, that will pose a challenge to their relationship. If your dog likes to wrestle and the new dog is all about chase games, that will require more compromise and teamwork than if they both enjoy tug, for example.

Age and size matter in some cases, but they are not necessarily as important as other qualities. Dogs of different ages and sizes can be the best of friends, but similarities in those categories may make it easier for them to develop a strong friendship.

And then there’s gender. Millions of people have two female or two male dogs, but adopting a dog of the opposite sex is often advised, as it tends to reduce the risk of fights. While there’s no clear evidence related to how important gender might be in this situation, many behaviorists (including me) anecdotally report that most of the worst cases of intra-household fighting tend to involve dogs of the same sex. So, all things being equal, if you already have a male dog, consider adopting a female.

karen london

Karen B. London, PhD

Karen B. London, Ph.D., is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression, and has also trained other animals including cats, birds, snakes, and insects. She writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life.